Kristallnacht and The Birth of Israel (Documentary) Review

Kristallnacht and Birth of Israel is a documentary in the BBC’s television series ‘The Days That Shook The World.’ It aims to dramatise two interrelated events: Kristallnacht and the birth of Israel as an independent state. Kristallnacht led to the Holocaust and that in turn led to the creation of the State of Israel – the so-called Promised Land – that ended the 2000-year long exile for the Jews. The narrative recounts the trials and tribulations faced by the Hebrews under the Nazi regime that persist even after it is decimated as Jews wander around in the search for their homeland.

Kristallnacht was a carefully organised persecution campaign directed against Jews in Nazi Germany that began in 1938. It was the first of the events that eventually led to the Holocaust and the mass murder of the Jews. The Storm Troops and the non-Jewish civilians were given a free-hand to destroy Jewish property and terrorise Jewish civilians by Hitler’s minister of propaganda: Paul Joseph Goebbels. Kristallnaht later came to be known as ‘the night of the broken glass’ because of the shattered glass that was strewn on the streets outside shops and homes. Many Jews were killed, their homes were looted, synagogues were destroyed as the law-enforcement forces watched impassively. Some Jews were even sent to concentration camps from which few returned.

BBC’s portrayal of Kristallnacht is incredibly vivid and poignant. It also successfully delineates the devastating effect to which the tool of propaganda can be used. Initially, to the world, the night of Kristallnacht (for it really did happen in one night) seemed like a usual riot in an unstable country, where a particular section of people targets another section. It was only later, long after the war had been underway, one came to know of the evil genius of Goebbels, of his inflammatory, anti-Semitic speech in Munich which successfully made one stray murder of a German by a young Jew look like a well-orchestrated conspiracy against the Germans by all the Jews. That speech incited government agents and even common Germans into attacking and oppressing Jews. The ensuing chaos is beautifully and intimately depicted in the film, with an extra focus on some significant contemporary Jews who were hurdles in the way of Nazi juggernaut. The narration of Storm Troops’ intrusion of the homes of common Jews is done through the perspective of the targeted people which makes the representation of Kristallnacht all the more terrifying and realistic.

The later half of the documentary represents the events leading up and during the creation of Israel – the political tussle between Israeli diplomats, and the world over, the threat of the well-armed Arabs massing on the Palestinian border and the dithering of the United States. The documentary smartly lets you know in a stealthy way the emergence of the United States as the most powerful country in the world after the World War II – as the viewer sees the importance of US govt’s backing of the infant state without which there is little hope for survival.

When compared, the later part of the documentary, which should have been more interesting owing to the events it depicts, seems tame. It is not that there is anything wrong in the presentation, for it is as perfect as ever – trademark BBC. It is once again the pace that creates problems. A good fifteen minutes are wasted in making the viewers follow the needlessly inserted narrative of two Palestinian boys who hide in Jaffa and contemplate on whether to stay or run and join King Abdullah’s army. The narrator then goes on to say something like “many Palestinian fighters then left Israel to return with the Arab army,” as if the viewer somehow missed the point. Also, BBC must have a penchant with phrases like “the drama that changed the world” and “what happened after that would alter the course” as though it weren’t a documentary but a Buzzfeed listicle. Speaking of narration, this time it is hard to find faults with it. It is even enough to seem grim for the documentary does portray some unpleasant events, but not too even so as to sound monotonous.

Overall, as the documentary and the dramatisation has a pretty high accuracy and a good level of insight. There is hardly anything revealing about the documentary, but a nice piecing together of two very important world events that could not have occurred without each other. Although some aspects of the documentary may put you off, but for most of its length it fulfills rather than dampens your expectations.

Rating: 4/5

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